Child-care benefits need to be updated, says Canada-U.S. council on women in business

Child-care benefits need to be updated, says Canada-U.S. council on women in business

Child-care benefits and other family policies need to be updated to help support women entrepreneurs grow their business, recommends the first report from the Canada-U.S. council on women in business.

In its report to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, the independent council recommends both governments look at ways to lower the cost of unpaid care.

"This could include things such as maternity leave policies and tax incentives. It could also include measures to level the playing field between caregivers — for example, paternity leave policies," says the document released Wednesday.

The report, the first of five from the council, acknowledged that Canada and the U.S. have taken different social approaches to leave, but said both countries have room to improve.

"In the United States, we heard women say that the high cost of child care or in-home support prevented them from scaling their companies to their full potential. In Canada, we heard the need for more affordable quality child-care programs," the joint council said.  

The Canada-U.S. Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, comprised of 10 executives from the two countries, was set up in February when Trudeau met with Trump at the White House.

Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, helped set it up to fix a problem highlighted in the council's first report: that despite starting nearly half of new businesses, women own fewer than 15 per cent of businesses with 500 or more employees.

The Royal Bank of Canada estimates a 10 per cent increase  in the number of women-owned, small- and medium-sized enterprises would add an additional $198 billion to Canada's GDP, notes the report.

Speak up about sexual harassment: report 

Wednesday's report highlighted what the council sees as four key barriers keeping women in both countries from growing their businesses, including a lack of growth capital, and inadequate access to talent, networks and expertise.

"Another factor is the drive to 'do it all.' Many women entrepreneurs try to run both a business and a household, whereas men are more likely to seek support at home," it reads.

The report also noted a timing concern, since a quarter of new entrepreneurs are between 20 and 34 — the average age range of most mothers with newborns.

Looming over all these other barriers are deeply rooted "social and psychological biases," says the report.

That can whittle down to trust, said the council, and also touches on the themes that the #metoo movement continues to raise.

"It is worth noting that business relations between men and women are receiving greater scrutiny in the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals. It is critical that women be encouraged and supported as they come forward about these instances," it says.

The council's report also recommends:

- Tracking the number of women entrepreneurs: The council called on workplace accelerators and professional networks to take bold action to attract and develop women-owned businesses, starting with tracking and transparency on the number of women entrepreneurs they help scale up. It recommends a third party to collect the data and give to government to review

- Expanding the use of private sector supplier-diversity programs in procurement: To increase access to capital and large customers, the council recommends large and medium Canadian and American companies to redouble their efforts to establish and expand supplier-diversity programs, and increase their outreach to women-owned businesses.

- Leveraging public-sector procurement to provide access to capital and large contracts. The report specifically recommends enhancing the United States Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program and start a similar linked program in Canada within a year.

The WOSB program requires the federal government to award five per cent of its prime contracts to women-owned small businesses in underrepresented sectors.

While making its recommendations, the council said it reviewed more than 80 research reports, interviewed more than 60 entrepreneurs, held two cross-border roundtables and engaged representatives from different minority groups.

Wednesday's report is the first of five from the independent council. In the coming months, it will release reports on increasing women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, advancing women as leaders in the private sector, increasing women's access to capital and encouraging women to start business.